By David A.M. Goldberg
Special to The Advertiser
By David A.M. Goldberg
Independent street-level videographer, digital jack-of-all-trades and surfer Clinton — say it like "Clean Tone" — Haness radiates a raw intensity and a trace of unpredictability. It's a vibe that comes from living life amid diverse, volatile energies. It circulates in cities with dynamic neighborhoods and layered histories like New York's Lower East Side, San Francisco's Mission District and Honolulu's own Chinatown — which occupies a privileged place in Haness' heart.
The vibe also comes from taking risks in nature, roaming backwoods and charging North Shore waves. Haness connects with all of these sources and is proud of his hybridity. "I'm not haole," he says with a grin. "I'm hau'oli... a totally mixed plate with a Hawaiian heart." He has lived in these Islands for 10 years and claims affinities, alliances and collaborative capacities from Hana Highway to Hotel Street to Honolulu Hale.
He talks fast, in a hyperlinked style that has digested everything from traditional Hawaiian and hip-hop cultures to the dynamics of gentrification, revitalization and sustainabiliy. Haness describes his approach to what he calls "life in the raw" as directly engaging people who are doing something that he is interested in and learning as much as he can. Charge 'um, right? Talking to him, one gets the sense that others are talking through him, and often they are. Our discussion at rRed Elephant sometimes turned into shout-outs to the people who he feels represent Chinatown's best interests: Roy Venters, Rich Richardson, Ed Korybski, Taharba James, Allen Stack and Alenka Remec. These folks and their institutions shape the wave of community he surfs.
Since he strives to mindfully de-center himself and occupy the role of messenger or rider rather than leader, it's no wonder he has chosen video as his medium of communication. With experience in production, graphic design and performance, Haness considers "video to be the most exciting and lucid form of communication." It lends itself to rapid shifts in perspective and juxtapositions that can create their own logic. Haness is now producing a video series called "You Like Sample?" that he presents as an alternative to public access and purely commercial mainstream local content.
He sees Hawai'i's embrace of various global movements of fashion, culture and music as a strength, and its critical issues of sustainability as a challenge to our dependence on the automobile, the military and the visitor industry. Though he certainly isn't the first to understand Hawai'i in this way, he recognizes a contentious division among various factions: town and country folk, artists, cultural workers, visitor-industry professionals, politicians, business representatives and academics.
In a world where culture is downloaded and Island life is a possible survival model, Haness is trying to redefine and re-present what it means to be local in the face of Hawai'i's unique challenges and capacities. "You Like Sample?" demonstrates his grasp of the fact that people pay the most attention to their backyard when it's reflected in mass media.
On the surface, his videos are an accessible collage of surf, beautiful people, nightlife, local gestures, architecture, performance and landscape. But underneath is his attempt to make a simultaneous point that what you are watching is a precise and genuine expression of contemporary Hawai'i, a casually defiant message to outsiders who still imagine grass shacks, coconut bras and tiki torches, and an attractor for people around the world who might appreciate our mosaic of sand and sidewalk.
Though he could tag his videos to make them easier to find according to obvious searches like "local hawaii," they are distinct from those that do. If Hawai'i can alter Jasmine Trias' destiny on "American Idol," delivering more hits to Haness' work could put Hawai'i on the map in a whole new way.
It's fitting that Haness would make Chinatown his base of operations, as this community of risk-takers, creative thinkers, unique merchants, old-timers, newcomers, edge-walkers and lost souls reflects and nourishes his sensibilities. You'll see him out there every single day, hauling his 100 percent portable video production rig through a rich stream of immigrant dynamics, economic density and the hazy red lights that glow around bars and night spots. Know that unlike "emerging artists" with fresh degrees drying on gallery walls, or "media professionals" backed by an agency and an air-conditioned editing bay, Clinton Haness is doing this on the streets, and he's bouncing it back to the world at large.
David A.M. Goldberg is a cultural critic and writer. He is a lecturer in art, art history and American studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.